Tuesday, November 25, 2003

One of the main problems that nationalisms have is how they answer the question: Who is "one of us"? I remember I used to work with a perspicacious American woman who used to whisper in my ear about some of our co-workers: "That guy talks American but he thinks European. He's not really one of us."

And, you know, she was right. Let me explain. We worked at a place where the whole teaching staff was American, but some of them were kinda sorta American--a woman who was born in the US to Catalan parents, a man who was the son of Italians, born in the US, but with more than 30 years overseas, a woman, the daughter of an Italian and an American, who didn't even speak standard English, the son of a Paraguayan and a Quebecois who had been born in the US, and several children of American-Spanish marriages who had lived here most of their lives. These folks were all perfectly lovely people, of course, but they did not think like Americans. And there are a good few of them living around Europe; I'd imagine that about half the Americans in Barcelona are this kind of American, the overseas kind.

They're almost in a sort of national limbo--they've got American roots of some kind, but American culture is not part of their lives. They don't know the folk songs or the traditional stories. Wouldn't recognize a square dance--or the hustle or the two-step--if it bit them on the ass. Don't know what the sky looks like on the Southern Plains when there's a norther coming down. Never been to family reunions with a bunch of rednecks. Didn't play high school football or ride bikes down to the reservoir or watch reruns of Gilligan's Island. Don't even know what Gilligan's Island is. Never watched the Canada geese flying south at high altitude. Have never eaten jello with marshmallows in it for dessert--hey, I never said being an American was all good. These folks just don't make the cut.

There are a few basics they've heard about. They know you have turkey at Thanksgiving, but they don't know that the Cowboys and the Lions play that day on TV. And they don't know that probably most American families don't drink wine at Thanksgiving. They've been to Halloween parties but they never went trick-or-treating and they certainly never sneaked out and committed pointless vandalism. They don't know you eat black-eyed peas at New Year's for good luck. They've never seen anyone chew tobacco, and they've never sat through Sunday school on a summer morning when there were better things to do, and they have never heard of fireflies or crawdads. Or fraternities and senior proms and country clubs. Maybe they haven't missed much.

But if my friend referred to these demi-Americans as "not really one of us", and I was able to understand exactly what she meant, that means they exist. Here we are, a couple of Yanks, handing out certificates of being a real American. Sounds pretty arrogant, doesn't it? All right, but if you've never eaten a Ding Dong or a Ho Ho how can you possibly qualify? (And if you had, why would you want to?)

So imagine the problem that Catalans have when they try to decide who's Catalan and who isn't. Now, the Statute of Autonomy says that everybody who lives and works in Catalonia is Catalan. That's fine for legal purposes, but come on. I live and work in Catalonia and no one would ever mistake me for a Catalan, even though I speak the language. They'd never mistake a hand-clapping fino-drinking consonant-mangling Andalusian for a Catalan, either.

I think the story is that Catalonia is divided, more or less, into three groups: the Old Catalans, the New Catalans, and the Non-Catalans. The Non-Catalans (let's say they're 20%) are of Spanish descent and do not speak Catalan or consider themselves Catalans. They live overwhelmingly in the Barcelona industrial suburbs and in the city itself. They answer the question by opting out.

The Old Catalans (let's say they're 30%) have a basic criterion for membership: your native language must be Catalan, and you can't have a "xava" (Castilian) accent. Your first name must be Catalan, and it's really better if you have at least one Catalan surname. Better, two. A grandfather from Switzerland or Sardinia or Salamanca is OK, they suppose. Just one. You also have to know all the stuff about Catalan culture that I mentioned about American culture.

That leaves the New Catalans, who I'd figure as about half the population. They are often of mixed Spanish-Catalan ancestry, or might be of Spanish origin but who have been here a couple of generations. They are most common in Barcelona and in smaller cities like Terrassa or Vilafranca or Manresa. These are the people who are the source of the debate. To simplify things, the New Catalans think of themselves as Catalans. The problem is that most Old Catalans don't. That pisses the New Catalans off no end. Then the Old Catalans call them "charnegos". They hate that. So they strike back against the O.C.s by labeling them as unworthy of the exalted title of Catalan that they claim as exclusively theirs.

The way you pick a New Catalan is, first, by his surnames, since he'll have at least one that ends in -ez. (His first name, of course, will be Catalan.) Second, you listen to his accent, and if it sounds like "xava" than he's N.C. Third, he doesn't know anything about Old Catalan culture except the basics, the equivalents of turkey on Thanksgiving, and he often thinks that by signing onto the basics he's expiated for his lack of real Old Catalan consciousness. He hasn't, at least in the eyes of the O.C.s.

Anyway, keep that in mind while you read this article by Llatzer Moix from Sunday's La Vanguardia. You'll need to know that "malparit", literally "ill-born", is a pretty strong insult in these parts, and that Mr. Josep Lluis Carod-Rovira is the leader of the Catalanista Republican Left party (ERC). Carod is looking for a euphemism for this common Catalan curse, which would translate to Spanish as "malnacido".

Carod-Rovira rebaptized the interior enemy of Catalunya last Sunday with the name of "malnascut". In the middle of his electoral euphoria, with 23 deputies at his back, the leader of the Republican Left demonstrated his gifts for integration and--I'm quoting from memory--proclaimed: there are some people born outside Catalunya who behave like irreproachable Catalans, but there are "malnascuts" who, despite having seen light here don't love Catalunya. Or rather: In a Catalunya designed by ERC adaptable charnegos will have a place, but nothing will be done for the "malnascuts".

For decades, the charnegos were a group that was as necessary as it was stigmatized. Now the chosen target are the "malnascuts". It's a change. Charnegos, yes; "malnascuts", no. That's a lovely slogan for a hypothetical campaign of normalization (i.e. elimination of Castilian), which I offer, for free, to the ERC directors. Now, what is, exactly, a "malnascut"? Carod identified them as those who "having been born here, do not love Catalunya." That leads us to other questions: how do we determine whether an individual loves or does not love Catalunya? Who determines this? Does it depend on his conduct? If that is so, who judges whether that is sufficiently Catalan? In other words, to be a persecutable "malnascut", do we have to go farther out than Vidal-Quadras? Or is it enough to disagree with the Catalan government's cultural policies? Is it necessary to hate Riba, Espriu, or Marti i Pol? Or is it enough to publish in Spanish? While we're at it, does Carod consider that pluralism is a crime of lese-patriotisme? Does he believe there is intelligent life outside ERC's program?

To some people these may seem unnecessary worries. To others, no. I assume that among the latter there are some people who are going to be called upon for legislative functions. Or judicial. This leads us to other questions. For example: What fate awaits the "malnascuts"? Should they wear some badge on their clothing? What punishments will a genuinally Catalan legal code reserve for them? Will they be allowed to follow reeducational programs? What solution is there for the non-cooperative?

Those are a lot of questions in the air. Too many. So let's go back to the beginning: what is exactly a "malnascut"? I go to the sources, to Pompeu Fabra's General Dictionary of the Catalan Language. I look uselessly. "Malnascut" isn't in there. "Malnat", yes: "Insulting term applied to a bad person". Has Carod fallen into a horrible barbarism? ("Malnacido": undesirable, despreciable", according to the Dictionary of the Spanish Royal Academy.) Heaven forbid...

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